(Image via https://twitter.com/AFCWimbledon)
The AFC Wimbledon story has been covered to death really, but in case you aren’t aware, they’re the club that was born following the original Wimbledon FC’s move to Milton Keynes, where the owners ignored fan protests, changed their name, colours and badge – much like a franchise in America – and tailored the football club to the people of Milton Keynes – a place Wimbledon fans had no connection with. That club is known as MK Dons and, what is considered by many as the real continuation of Wimbledon and was setup by powerless Wimbledon fans, is AFC Wimbledon.
Fast forward to 2019 and AFC Wimbledon – a club ran and owned by Wimbledon fans in attempt to secure its future and prevent the same thing from happening again – is in the same league as MK Dons after starting right at the bottom of the English football pyramid and working their way up to the Football League and, eventually, into League One where they reside now. It really is a remarkable rise from a fan-owned, fan-funded club who don’t have a rich benefactor, which is rare, particularly in a modern football climate where so many clubs do.
Of course the recent situations at both Bolton – who were, thankfully, eventually saved – and Bury – who, tragically, have folded due to an unscrupulous owner in Steve Dale – serve as a reminder not only to football’s governing bodies that the so called fit and proper person’s test that allow these business men into the game needs to be altered drastically, but also that the fan-ownership model, like AFC Wimbledon has, is potentially a way forward for so many clubs.
Sadly, as Premier League money fails to filter itself down into the lower divisions and inadequacies at the top of the EFL remain, situations at Bolton and Bury could become commonplace and, subsequently, more and more fan-owned football clubs could be on the horizon, be it in a new or current guise.
AFC Wimbledon is living proof that such a model can enable relative success. The club, based in neighbouring Kingston is currently priced by online betting sites like 888sport at 50/1 to gain promotion from League One this season and are clearly nowhere near challenging for the title with odds of 200/1 (888sport) to win the division, but with their minuscule fan-funded budget compared to most and a tiny stadium that holds just under 5,000 fans, they’re essentially at their ceiling as a
club. But, things could be about to change thanks to a unique initiative.
(Image via https://twitter.com/NATTERFOOTBALL)
After plans were revealed to move the club back to a site in south west London a few hundred yards away from Wimbledon FC’s former home of Plough Lane, to New Plough Lane, the club needed to raise extra funds to help their dream 11,000 seater stadium (which could eventually be extended to 20,000) become a reality.
AFC Wimbledon started a crowdfunding campaign for the people to invest in their stadium, be it for £10, £1000 or £100,000. Investors would then – depending on how much they chucked in – have their name dedicated to a wall in the stadium, a beer tap, even a urinal and have the unique ability to be the naming rights partner of the stadium for one game. The rewards are endless, but you get the idea. Unsurprisingly, with months to go in their campaign, the club have hit their desired £2,000,000 target and the fans have helped fund yet another chapter in their remarkable story.
Are fan-powered clubs like AFC Wimbledon the future? Quite possibly.